The faster the world changes, the more critical it becomes to exercise your imagination. If you don’t, you’ll always be surprised by what happens next.
I get calls and emails from all sorts of people, but the most interesting ones are from people who look at the world around us and imagine something different than exists today. Some want to reinvent our educational system. Others want to make banking more customer-friendly, or do the same to a different industry. All have an active imagination, or have partnered with someone who does.
There used to be lots of careers in which you could thrive without an imagination. Many industries did not change that fast, and many career paths were pretty stable. Neither of these statements are still true.
Here are seven reasons career – and life – success requires that you exercise your imagination:
1. All business growth starts with imagination. Every new product and service starts with someone saying, “What if?” To succeed in this realm, you don’t need to have the imagination of a great artist or inventor. You might simply ask: what if we offered a different size, or package, or payment plan, or service plan, or logo?
Long ago, when I worked at a collectibles firm called The Danbury Mint, I was often surprised at how a tiny change would result in millions of dollars in incremental sales. Someone would say, “Let’s offer a smaller size of the same doll,” and that was it. Start small, but be ready for big results.
2. Imagination is how we recognize talent. When the new intern shuffles by you with his or her head bowed, imagine what sort of talent is lurking inside that person. When you hear about a school that lacks basic supplies, or a community that lacks even simple medicine, imagine how much talent is being wasted. Then do something about it.
All of us were at one point in a position that required others to use their imaginations. I can remember plenty of times early in my career when it would have taken a great deal of imagination to recognize I had even one ounce of initiative or ability.
3. Imagination enables us to understand the reality of other people’s situation. You know that guy who always seems to do the least amount of work possible? Maybe he isn’t lazy. Maybe he stays up all night caring for a sick relative, or maybe no one ever bothered to train him to do his job, or maybe he’s in the wrong job.
Use your imagination to understand the challenges and opportunities that others face. They aren’t always obvious.
4. Imagination makes it clear how far we’ve come. It’s easy to lose sight of where you are today. Both in terms of society and your own accomplishments, remarkable things had to happen to get you to this place. After all, it took 15 or 20 years simply for you to grow to be full size. Every day of that time, someone had to help you find food, clothing and shelter. Before you were born, others had to sacrifice to build the roads and houses and electric plants that make up your community.
And someone had to stand in a wide open, empty space and say, “Let’s build a town here.”
Use your imagination to make an equally powerful leap forward.
5. Imagination powers love, hope and caring. Every new relationship requires imagination. Someone has to think: I might like this person. Or: I can’t live without this person.
Often times, someone has to push past fear or rejection to make what they imagined come true.
Every new charity requires not only this sort of imagination, but also the determination to ask other people for time, money and effort. It’s hard work, but can you imagine how much of a difference you can make?
6. When we lose, imagination keeps us going. Without imagination, every loss would feel like the end. When you got fired, you would simply stop working. When you got dumped in a relationship, you would simply be alone.
Imagination makes it possible for you to see a world that is different from the one that exists today. It might be a world in which you weigh less, or have stronger muscles, or live in a different place. It might be whatever you can imagine.
7. Imagination turns obstacles into opportunities. It’s tempting to wait for good things to happen to you, but many times the best outcomes begin with a problem. Most great entrepreneurs got their start by tackling basic problems. The same is true for nearly every profession.
Don’t avoid problems. Seek them out, then imagine and implement solutions.
I’d like to suggest you ponder a question this week: when you look back on your life, will you be proud of your imagination?
For many years, I’ve admired Ben Heine’s work. He graciously allowed me to use his images not only in this article, but also in the “visual version” of this article (please see below.) To find more of Ben’s highly imaginative artworks, visit his Facebook page.